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McCollum campaign responds

Mccolumfin In an earlier post, CPR questioned the suggestion by the McCollum campaign that Republican challenger Rick Scott "is a man who barely escaped imprisonment" during an investigation of Columbia/HCA which Scott headed.

Scott, a wealthy Naples businessman is running a vigorous campaign against Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to win the Republican nomination for governor.

McCollum's campaign sent out an email slamming Scott. The content of that email is in an earlier post.

CPR questioned the appropriateness of the "barely escaped imprisonment" comment. In reply, the McCollum campaign sent CPR the text of a 1997 ABC News report highlighting this remark by reporter Brian Ross:

 "Columbia has denied the fraud allegations. But its chairman -- Rick Scott -- and five other top corporate executives have resigned.  And federal investigators told ABC News today that Scott is now considered a prime target of the investigation.  Scott could not be reached for comment."

CPR still believes that's a pretty thin statement to use to suggest someone "barely escaped' prison. Here is the entire ABC News transcript as provided by the McCollum campaign:

PETER JENNINGS: The nation's largest commercial hospital chain is under assault again.  Tomorrow, three executives from one of Columbia Healthcare's Florida hospitals will appear in court to answer charges of cheating the government out of more than $1 million dollars at the hospital that they managed.

And federal officials tell ABC News that employees at the parent company may face criminal charges as well.  The issue here is pretty stark.  Does Columbia lie to make a buck, and do patients suffer as a result?  Here's ABC's Brian Ross.

 BRIAN ROSS: It is one of the biggest criminal investigations of an American corporation ever.

 LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL: We're executing a search warrant.

 BRIAN ROSS: In the past few months, hundreds of federal agents have raided at least 70 of Columbia's hospitals and offices in seven states.

 What's involved are allegations, denied by Columbia, that the company was in such a headlong rush to increase profits that cheating and fraud came to be an accepted and expected way of doing business.

In particular, investigators say the company may have overbilled the government by hundreds of millions of dollars for treating patients covered under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Mark Gardner is a former Columbia hospital vice president. 

 MARK GARDNER, Former Columbia Executive: The greed that I experienced in Columbia is the type of greed that can bring down the Medicare system.

 BRIAN ROSS: Gardner, who agreed to be interviewed by ABC News for an upcoming report on 20/20, says he and other Columbia executives routinely ripped off Medicare.

 MARK GARDNER: The bottom line is make the money and let the government figure out what's wrong with the Medicare system.

 BRIAN ROSS: But you were cheating Medicare, right?

 MARK GARDNER: So be it.

 BRIAN ROSS: So be it?

 MARK GARDNER: Yeah.

 RIAN ROSS: Columbia has denied the fraud allegations. But its chairman -- Rick Scott -- and five other top corporate executives have resigned.  And federal investigators told ABC News today that Scott is now considered a prime target of the investigation.  Scott could not be reached for comment.

 . . . Columbia treats 125,000 people a day at more than 300 hospitals around the country, and questions are now being raised about whether its drive for huge profits also has affected the quality of medical care.

 Columbia says it has not.  But former executive Gardner says drastic cutbacks in staff led to medical mistakes and even death.

MARK GARDNER: We work for shareholders.

 BRIAN ROSS: Shareholders?

 MARK GARDNER: We work for people who own stock, and patients are secondary.

 BRIAN ROSS: Over the last decade, Columbia has made its stockholders and executives rich with its aggressive bottom-line approach to running hospitals.  Its advertising slogan proudly proclaims, healthcare has never worked like this before.  Federal investigators say, based on what they're finding at Columbia, that is all too true. Brian Ross, ABC News, New York. (ABC’s “Nightly News, 8/18/97)

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